Want a strong safety culture? Listen to your employees to gain trust, respect
By Rhys Fraser
Safety culture isn’t just about right or wrong and it’s not just about ensuring employees comply with government regulations.
Admittedly, these are part of the path towards a successful safety program (let’s be realistic — if nobody followed the rules, the world would be in chaos and a state of non-conformity). In saying that, a “successful” safety program in terms of documentation, adherence to rules, zero lost time incidents and low injury rates doesn’t always mean a successful culture.
To truly develop and maintain a strong safety culture within an organization, you need to move far past the idea it’s about rules. Safety culture is about trust and respect, knowledge, rewards and education.
Trust and respect, in particular, are the backbones to a truly successful organization, most evidently in the area of safety.
Gaining trust, respect from workers
How do you gain trust and respect? It’s a worthwhile question, as you may be thinking about all the employees you’ve worked with over the year who just don’t seem to ever want to listen.
That last word is the key one: Listen.
Listen to your employees. Right or wrong, value their opinion. Listen to their reasoning, complaints and perspectives. By listening to your employees, you can begin to gain the trust and respect you need to build a strong, successful safety culture.
Does this mean you can’t discipline? No. Does this mean you should stand on a jobsite for hours on end listening to an employee complain? No.
What it does mean is that you need to take the time to “be around.” Be there when your employees need you and be there when they don’t. Slowly but surely, over time as you learn more about your employees, what they like to do outside of work, how many children they might have or what sports they prefer, you will build that trust. And with trust, comes respect.
Over my career, I have built the trust and respect of thousands of employees, even those that are “old school” and refuse to even try to understand safety no matter what you tell them. Through engagement, trust and respect, all of those employees were willing to listen to me, as I was to them, and they helped organizations move towards a successful and positive safety culture.
Even if you have stubborn, “old-school” employees, don’t give up — take the time to listen and take the time to educate. Even if they disagree with safety, they’ll respect and trust you enough to know that you’re looking out for them. These are the employees that begin to step up and really drive other employees towards success.
Don’t forget about communication
Communication, the “opposite of listening,” is also critical. Your employees don’t just want to be listened to; they also want to be spoken to. What are they doing right? They want to know what you are doing to continue to build on safety to ensure they can make it home safely every day.
Make sure you communicate goals and targets, successes and failures.
Let the know failures can, and often will, occur. But these failures provide an opportunity to build upon an existing foundation and to learn, develop and grow.
In today’s ever evolving and growing commercial, industrial and residential sectors, complacency (aka “autopilot”) appears to be at an all-time high. Don’t be afraid to communicate reminders to your team. Reminders about weather, equipment hazards, noise hazards or any other minor or major dangers your team may face.
Holding regular, monthly meetings with your team can be a great way to communicate key items while giving them time to acknowledge each other. Key reminder: Don’t rely on the monthly meetings as your only form of communication. Send out weekly emails, stop by and visit with your team members and, most importantly, do whatever you can to educate them as much and as often as possible.
Key takeaways for safety leaders
- Success in safety is more than just documentation.
- Listen to your employees.
- Get to know your team personally and professionally.
- Don’t be afraid to discipline as needed, but always strive to find reasoning behind actions and educate wherever possible.
- Spend extra time with “stubborn” employees instead of dismissing them or removing them from safety-sensitive positions. The more effort you put in to providing reasoning and education, the more empowered these employees will be in the push towards a positive safety culture.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Communication is critical to keeping your employees informed and letting them know that your goal is to get them home to their family at the end of every workday.
- Education trumps discipline.
By striving to build a positive safety culture, engaging and involving all of your team members and by following some, or all of the points covered in this article, I promise trust and respect will soon follow, as will a healthy, safe workplace that allows employees to enjoy coming to work wanting to be safe no matter what.
Rhys Fraser, CHSC, NCSO, GSC, CM-Lean, is the health and safety manager at Transcona Roofing in Winnipeg. He is also a recipient of OHS Canada’s Top 25 Under 40 award for 2022.